Getting Started in Stargazing Tonight

Our movement and change through time and space are fundamental characteristics of what it means to be alive. Imagine a world where everything was still, no time, no past, no future, nothing. Without movement and change, absolutely nothing would exist. As much as the entropy of change eventually dooms us all, it also gives us life. There is no life without movement. There’s no life without change, time, and space. The stars and planets give an overwhelming perspective on movement, change, space, and time. It’s fundamental to how we live our lives. Look at your watch. Have you ever wondered why an hour is 60 mins? Why are there 24 hours a day? Seven days in a week? Why do we have months, seasons, or years? Who made up the rule that months are around 30 days? Where did your zodiac sign come from? Where did “military time” come from? The Greeks,…

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5 Reasons Why Titan is A Better Destination Than Mars
Titan Composite, Monochrome and False Color

5 Reasons Why Titan is A Better Destination Than Mars

Titan is a cold, icy world surrounded by a thick, hazy, orange atmosphere. Standing on its surface would resemble standing on the planet Vagra II of Star Trek TNG. Although there’s more than likely no black gue serving as the embodiment of evil oozing about its surface, it’s also unique in that it is the only place we know of other than Earth to have bodies of surface liquid on its surface.We’ve had a long history of observing Titan. Most of our telescopes perceive it as a fuzzy orange ball of light, near Saturn, however, multiple missions have given us new insight into this beautiful world and why it makes for an intriguing destination for interplanetary discovery, even more so than Mars.Since its discovery in 1655, Titan has been visited by Pioneer 11 in 1973, Voyager 1 in 1980, Voyager 2 in 1981, and the Cassini in 2004.Cassini–Huygens mission, launched by NASA,…

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The Polarizing Reasons Pluto is Not a Planet Anymore
Icy mountains on the surface of Pluto. Photograph: New Horizons/NASA

The Polarizing Reasons Pluto is Not a Planet Anymore

Pluto was previously considered a planet since its discovery in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. Pluto had little resistance to its classification as the ninth planet upon its discovery.This may have been a slight case of confirmation bias since the presence of a "ninth planet" or "planet X" was hypothesized by Percival Lowell. Lowell believed that the apparent discrepancies of Uranus were the causation of another planet beyond Neptune.Pluto was within only 6 degrees of the predicted location of the ninth planet predicted by Lowell. However, Lowell predicted that this planet would be around 6.6 the mass of Earth.As telescopes improved, we were able to learn more about Pluto. In 1950, Gerard Kuiper observed Pluto as a spherical world using a 200-inch telescope at Mount Palomar. Kuiper estimated that Pluto's diameter was around 5,900 kilometers.In 1965, Pluto passed near a star allowing astronomers to conclude that Pluto was a small body. As…

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Why Saturn’s Moon Mimas is so Awesome

Mimas is Saturn's seventh moon and one of the most mysterious objects in the Solar System. One would think that Mimas inspired the Death Star from the 1977 film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, but the movie was made three years before the crater's discovery by Pioneer 11 in 1979.Voyager 1, Voyager 2, the Cassini probe in 2010 have visited Mimas since its discovery. Mimas, however, did make a pop culture appearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 19, The First Duty. The episode featured the moon when Wesley Crusher was beamed to Mimas in an emergency after some suspect piloting Wes and pals, but that's another issue."Mimas" was derived from the "Giants" in Greek mythology. But don't confuse the Giants with the Titans. Both groups have the same mother and father, Gaia and Uranus. Although they had the same parents, how the Giants came into this world is just a tad bit…

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Super Planet Crash – The Ultimate Space Game

Have you ever wondered how different masses in space interact with each other gravitationally and how stable solar systems form? Then you will want to check out the game Super Planet Crash. Super Planet Crash is a browser-based gravity game that originated from an open-source program used by astronomers to detect planets outside of our Solar System born out of the work of Yale Professor of Astronomy, Greg Laughlin and Stefano Meschairi at UC Santa Cruz. This fun and addictive game lets users create their planetary systems utilizing several different astronomical bodies, including Earth-like masses, Super-Earths, Ice Giants, Giant Planets, Brown Dwarfs, and Dwarf Stars. How To Play Super Planet Crash At the game's opening, players are given a single Earth-like mass that has been assigned an arbitrary orbit around a central parent star. The challenge is for players to create their solar system by continuing to add additional masses within a…

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The Majesty of Gas Giant Planets

When we hear the term "gas giant planet", our minds race directly to several planets located within our Solar System, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. These planets share several defining characteristics that allow them to be lumped into the same category.In particular, the high percentage of helium and hydrogen within their overall composition places them apart from other more terrestrial solar bodies. However, the term gas giant planet is a bit misleading in that it tells us very little about the actual composition of these unique worlds.Gas giant planets are composed of a high percentage of solid material. Due to the extreme pressure within the core of a gas giant, hydrogen may be converted into a metallic solid or liquid form.Frequently, there are other materials interspersed within this solid matrix as well. Although all gas giants contain high amounts of hydrogen and helium within their overall composition, they may also have…

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Anousheh Ansari: Stargazing Becomes Space Travel

By Emily Zubritsky I watched Anousheh Ansari’s TED talk and felt so inspired that I may only find a way to get myself to space! Ok, let’s be honest, I probably won’t go to space. But her story inspired me to pursue my hopes and dreams. Please watch it yourself as we need more inspiration in this world around space travel and all things positive.  Anousheh Ansari’s TED Talk Since she was a little girl, Anousheh Ansari would stare up at the stars and dream of going to space. On September 18, 2006, she became the first female private citizen to travel to space. How’s that for following through with a dream! Ansari was aboard the mission Soyuz TMA-9 and traveled with commander Mikhail Tyurin and flight engineer Michael Lopez-Alegria. She landed safely back on earth on September 29, 2006. While aboard the aircraft, Ansari agreed to perform some research for…

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What Are Exoplanets

One of the best-kept secrets of our times is that planets exist outside our Solar System. Exoplanets are planets orbiting one of the billions of stars we see in the nighttime sky. As our ability to search through the vastness of space increases, we continue to find ourselves faced with an ever-expanding potential of discovering planets that could look and behave a lot like Earth. That's all fine and dandy, but wouldn't you instead impress your friends with your exoplanetary knowledge? Look no further! The History of Exoplanetary Exploration Humans began their interest in exoplanets around the 16th century. The Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno was the first to publicly support the idea based on his belief in the Copernican theory that Earth and the other known planets of the time were indeed orbiting around the sun. He speculated that this should be the case for different stars in the universe. In…

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The Elegance of Astronomy Symbols

I have always been fascinated by symbols and the messages they communicate. As a graphic designer, my favorite projects were creating logos. I love the elegance and slickness of silhouette logos that tell a story with just a glance. I had similar feelings when viewing the art and graphics of the classic Halo video game. Within the lore of Halo, an ancient species named the Forerunners designed beautiful, grandiose architecture that within the context of the game, looked ancient, spiritual, and foreign, yet technologically advanced. Their symbols communicated a species outside of time. This is how I’ve seen astronomy symbols. They represent objects that have been around millions of years before us and more than likely millions of years after us. They are simple yet elegant and are a reflection of the mythology that helped ancient people interpret what they saw in the heavens. The experience was spiritual in the sense that I’m…

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